Make migration work

Throughout history, one of the most effective strategies for people to look for a better future has been to move and in most cases leaving impoverished rural areas in search of more productive opportunities elsewhere. Migration has been essential to the human story — the source of multiple economic and cultural benefits. But when migration is out of extreme need, distress and despair, it becomes another story. Forced migration is rooted in conflicts, political instability, extreme poverty, hunger, environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change.

In these situations, people have no choice other than to move. This year’s slogan for World Food Day (16 October), “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”, addresses the structural drivers of large movements of people in order to make migration safe, orderly and regular.

Most of those who migrate remain in their countries of origin. There are around 763 million internal migrants worldwide, one in every eight people on the planet with the majority moving from the countryside to cities. Conflict, rural poverty, and climate change, all demand increasing attention as they drive up distress migration as a last resort, which generates a tangle of moral, political and economic problems for migrants, their eventual hosts and the transit points in between.

Inclusive rural development can help on all fronts, curbing conflict, boosting sustainability and making migration a matter of choice rather than desperation. Migration itself is part of rural development and contributions of remittance to development need to be recognized and cherished, as they are the bridges between countries of origin, transit and destination.

FAO is working to address the root causes of migration. It includes youth job training and inclusive access to credit, crafting social protection programmes that offer cash or in-kind transfers, specific measures to support those returning to rural areas of origin, and offering assistance for the provision of seeds, fertilizers and animal-health services, fine-tuning early warning systems for weather risks and by working for sustainable natural resource and land use.

FAO will advocate for solutions that make migration an act of choice and not a desperate last resort. Agriculture and rural development have a key role to play in this.

The writer is Director-General of UN FAO